Recognising Opportunities for Women-led Development

27 Mar 2023

India is a young society. Adolescents in India are a growing demographic, constituting the demographic dividend that is a great asset for India. This segment of youth has become much better educated than the previous generation of adolescents—a remarkable achievement—especially because it took place with gender parity.

These educated girls aspire, they have role models, they have a plan. This is clearly an opportunity. The question before us today is: what can we do to help them achieve their plan?

To achieve gender equality, the government has taken several transformative steps to accelerate change and empower women by focusing on areas such as healthcare, education, skilling and livelihood. Schemes such as ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ promote the education of the girl child, while the National Skill Development Policy promotes inclusive skill development. There are several other government schemes and policies designed to empower women. Moreover, India’s Gender Budget, which aims to reduce the gender gap, was increased this year. This augurs well for women and will play a critical role in building an inclusive India where ‘Nari Shakti’ will have opportunities to lead and shape a new world.

In 2013, recognising the tremendous untapped potential, CII launched the Indian Women Network with the vision of becoming the largest network for career women to discuss and overcome challenges and identify ways to impact and co-create ecosystems that enable women to fulfil their economic potential. Today, with 23 chapters across the country and 10 years into our existence, we have built programs around the needs and experiences of women, including the campus-to-career initiative for young students on the brink of entering the workforce, mentorship for mid-level women professionals, and the gender self-diagnostic tool for companies to self-assess how they are faring vis-à-vis inclusion and what they can do better.

With India as G20 president, the focus is on creating inclusive multi-stakeholder alliances to empower women. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment at the G20 Summit in Bali that “global development is not possible without women’s participation” underscores India’s commitment towards inclusive development.

With CII as the secretariat for B20, the business platform of G20, I am optimistic that we can strengthen gender equity by working with all stakeholders. At B20, India this year will add the industry perspective to strategic policies by the world’s largest economies to shape a more equitable world. The dialogue will take place under the theme of RAISE—Responsible, Accelerated, Innovative, Sustainable and Equitable Businesses. The “E” which represents Equitable business practices, looks at fostering inclusive growth and thus follows two basic principles: (i) principle of ‘opportunities for all’ (ii) principle of ‘inclusiveness’ wherein the economic benefits of businesses are fairly distributed among all.

It is imperative that a roadmap is designed to help women achieve their full potential by capitalising on the opportunities that present themselves at all levels. If we look at the emerging economic trends, clear enablers of inclusion and enhanced participation of women seem to be emerging. These include:

New technologies and increasing digitisation are closing gender gaps in education and access to markets, and thus hold the potential to benefit women as workers, consumers and decision makers. Technology advancements, such as mobile money and digital platforms, may help women overcome barriers they face in accessing finance and markets, two of the biggest challenges for new business.
Linked to the increased digitisation is also the burgeoning startup culture which offers women tremendous opportunities to be entrepreneurs and job givers instead of job seekers. Accompanied by the rise of the service industry, this is a big opening for women to design work opportunities by keeping their skill sets and requirements at the centre.
The energy transition which we are witnessing requires an overhaul of the way our economy functions. This translates into new jobs with new skills, thereby providing an opportunity for industry to intentionally engage the new generation of aspirational women to lead us through a just energy transition.
Globalisation of the value chain is yet another trend that is throwing up a plethora of opportunities, allowing women owned MSMEs to access foreign markets indirectly by supplying domestic exporters, helping to reduce the fixed costs of exporting.

A survey of over 700 working women conducted by CII revealed that 40% of the respondents aspired to “rise to the top of their companies”. While women in the workforce are displaying new attitudes, even in the areas of education, especially higher education, a larger number of women in India today are opting for advanced learning at higher rates compared to before the pandemic. The gender gap in STEM subjects is narrowing, and an increasing number of women are opting to reskill and upskill themselves with various certification courses. When we look around, we see many women leading initiatives, whether they may be self-help groups at the rural level, or startups and independent small businesses. Not only are women tapping into existing opportunities but also creating new opportunities for themselves.

We have over 1.37 million elected Indian women representatives providing leadership in formulating and implementing gender-sensitive public policies at the community level. The serving president of India, Droupadi Murmu, is a role model for us. Women are leading in every sector, and I believe the narrative around women and leadership is changing. Let us orchestrate the opportunities that are presenting themselves, to create an economy that applies intentional design to move towards greater participation and inclusive growth for all.

The article was first published in The New Indian Express on 25 March 2023.